And so the season ended, with an exciting, if disappointing conclusion last Saturday as our Green Archers fell to the vastly experienced Ateneo Blue Eagles, 63-66. Disappointing in that we had a chance to upset the defending champions, but faltered when it mattered in the closing stages of the game. Exciting in that for at least a quarter, we really gave them something to worry about. And unfortunately Ateneo sophomore guard Kiefer Ravena continued his practice of having good games against us, knocking in 16 points in the final quarter to match our points output in that quarter and single-handedly tow the Blue Eagles to victory.
But that’s water under the bridge. Experience triumphed over youth. Joshua and Jovet played out their years with us without having tasted a championship. Ateneo pushes the envelope as it tries for a fifth consecutive championship, probably their last in some time as they face a rebuilding year next season. And our team officially becomes a sunrise squad, with a bright future ahead and future crowns beckoning in the distance.
What was interesting about the game?
Our concentrated assault in the third quarter, where we limited Ateneo to jus t 7 points while we poured in 21 to take a shocking 9 point lead after 30 minutes. How we did it is a story in itself. Only 2 field goals for Ateneo, 1/3 from afar and 1/14 from inside the arc. Interesting. Maybe we should have just tightened our perimeter and let them drive? Just kidding. Crashing the boards to the tune of 17-9. Getting more offensive boards, 5-3. Speeding up the game – 5 fastbreak points out of 5 attempts while Ateneo got its solitary 2-point field goal from a single fastbreak. Keeping our errors down, just 3 in the quarter. Spreading the wealth, I mean the points among 6 players led by Yutien’s under-the-goal stabs. Shooting better from the field, 7/17. Being more aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop, resulting in 9 foul shots, of which we made 6.
Unfortunately the story was reversed in the fateful fourth. We got clobbered somehow on the boards, 4-14 as our bigs practically disappeared from the paint. 3 out of those 4 rebounds were collared by Almond (2) and Thomas (1), and Yutien got the last one. Oh yeah, 6 of those Ateneo rebounds were of the offensive type. Kiefer waxed hot from afar, making 3/5 and Buenafe nailed a crucial corner trey as well. When Kiefer got hot, we failed to devise schemes to contain him; where we blitzed him successfully in the first 3 quarters, he got away from 1-on-1 coverage we threw at him to dish off 4 assists. Also he somehow outrebounded our entire team with 6. This was a Ravena quarter, folks, and we unfortunately allowed it to happen.
Under pressure, our team crumbled. Not so much as in errors, but in composure. As Ateneo threatened, we resorted to looking for points from beyond the arc, misfiring on 5 out of 6 attempts which Ateneo collected for rebounds. We only recovered one of our missed shots in the 4th. In contrast, Ateneo made 4 out of their 8 tries, which was an automatic 9-point disparity right there. And our defense failed us – we resorted to fouling them, sending them to the stripe 12 times where they made 8 points. In contrast, we only attempted 4 times from the free throw line, making 3. Not a bad percentage, but entirely too few attempts. Another 5-point gap there. From closer in, we made 5/9 field goals, slightly better than Ateneo’s 4/8, but the disparity in the free throws and the 3pointers just did us in. It was those crucial opening minutes of the last quarter that spelled the difference. We gave up the momentum to Ateneo, and the game swung in their favor.
So what did we learn?
That we have an excellent foundation for the future. Our team was able to get this far, and improved from the start of the second round of eliminations. We outlasted another consensus contender, FEU in a do-or-die playoff. We gave Ateneo all it could handle in our playoff game. We were able to keep our turnovers down to a very low 11 in the game.
We’re pretty deep in all positions, with good starters and able backups, if a bit raw at present. We have an outside threat in Almond, LA, and even Jeron, pgs who can compete with the best in LA, Thomas, and even Mac, bigs like Norbert, AVO, and Yutien who can dominate inside, slashers like Jeron, Oda, and Mac who can penetrate, and an excellent defense, the best in the league.
This year, there were still rough edges in our game. The pieces didn’t all mesh at the start, and there was some experimentation until Coach Gee and his assistants settled on a fixed rotation for the season. It got better as the season progressed. We did get hit by injuries, LA, Yutien, and Mac were sidelined at various times. Unfortunately, LA never fully recovered, and by the playoffs, had ceded his starting position to Thomas.
Is there a victory in this loss?
Well, nothing can really erase the pain of falling to our greatest rival, but on the other hand, the sun will rise tomorrow, and every day after. So we ended up in 4th, with a 9-5 record and 1-1 in the playoffs. Not bad, considering that at the same time last year, we were at 5-9 and had exited after only 14 games. Our team now has a sense of purpose, is capable of executing the game plan most of the time (next year, probably all the time), is learning to strike a balance between structured plays and when the players can do some free lancing. Too bad it took that much time to get to this point, probably 2 games too late. But our performance says a lot. We booted out FEU, no easy task considering that their backcourt is probably the most explosive in the league.
A lot of time to retool, rebuild, and prepare for next year. This team now has a solid base of players, and we’re only losing Joshua and Jovet to graduation. Thank you, Joshua and Jovet, for your years of faithful service to the community. Your efforts will be missed.
Next year, our players will have another year of experience under their belt, our coaches will have some level of mastery over the college game, and we’ll have some exciting prospects raring to crack our lineup. Our team support is going to be unmatched in the league. We should see some progress in the upcoming Champion’s League which kicks off in the next few weeks.
The future looks bright indeed!